Complementary and alternative medicine Friday Woo Medicine Quackery

Your Friday Dose of Woo: A little Thanksgiving bonus woo to help you melt away the pounds

For the holidays, I thought I’d include a brief little bit of woo that seems not quite extensive enough for a full treatment in Your Friday Dose of Woo but is nonetheless a tasty woo morsel for your edification that fits in with the usual Thanksgiving theme of overindulgence in various foods and the deleterious effect such overindulgence can have on one’s waistline. Here’s one that I’ve never heard of before, namely ear stapling for weight loss:

Marie Fallaw says she lost 83 pounds in six months simply by “stapling” her ears.

The Mississippi entrepreneur, owner of Staple Lean LLC, has scheduled a return trip to Florida Friday for ear stapling sessions with dozens of weight loss hopefuls.

The problem: Ear stapling for weight loss is illegal in Florida. The state Board of Acupuncture banned the practice because of the threat of infections and other health problems.

Despite the prohibition, ear stapling practitioners from across the country target Florida. They promise miracle weight loss by stapling an acupuncture point on the ear.

Numerous companies, including Fallaw’s Staple Lean, have been soliciting clients around the state, including some in the Tampa Bay area.

Staple Me Thin LLC, based in Mississippi, incorporated a Florida branch Oct. 25. Another Mississippi company, Staple Image LLC, incorporated its Florida operation in June.

“This is a big, growing problem in our state. It’s ridiculous that people are doing it,” said Amy Sear, president of the Florida State Oriental Medical Association, a nonprofit organization of licensed acupuncturists. Sear warned the state acupuncture board this summer that her organization was witnessing an increase in ear stapling activity.

The board responded by sending letters to the Department of Health’s unlicensed-activity section to inform them about the problem.

Acupuncturists in Florida must be licensed with the state and can be fined up to $1,000 for practicing ear stapling. Unlicensed practitioners engaging in ear stapling could be charged with a third-degree felony.

Although I approve of cracking down on such obvious woo-filled quackery as described above, this story brings up an interesting question. Given that there is little evidence that acupuncture does much therapeutically beyond being a counterirritant that probably also invokes a placebo effect, coupled with the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that any therapeutic effects that acupuncture might or might not produce have anything whatsoever to do with the entire mystical/spiritual/religious underpinning behind acupuncture, namely altering the flow of a mystical “life energy” (qi) by placing needles in “meridians,” how does one differentiate between acupuncture claims that are clearly without a basis in any science (like ear stapling for weight loss) from the many other claims of acupuncture that may or may not have a basis in science (pain relief, for example)? For example, from the very article above:

Certified acupuncturists note that the ear has pressure points that affect every area of the body; treating the right location can have a positive health benefit.

Certified acupuncturists note that the ear has pressure points that affect every area of the body; treating the right location can have a positive health benefit.

One pressure point relates to the stomach and appetite. Stimulated properly, acupuncturists say it reduces hunger and increases thirst for water, which is necessary for burning fat.

But they dismiss advertised claims of a “miracle” staple and say that “stapling” a pressure point in the ear alone will not lead to weight loss.

Combined with diet and exercise, they say acupuncture treatments on the ear can help in weight loss, as well as smoking cessation and other health issues.

“Acupuncture doesn’t make the pounds fall off,” Sear said.

You see what I mean? “Certified” acupuncturists make a pseudoscientific claim that is without basis in physiology or scientific evidence (namely, that there are “pressure points” in the ear relating to the stomach and appetite that can be used to help people lose weight–but with diet and exercise, of course) but then criticize another pseudoscientific claim by other acupuncturists that stapling these points can somehow lead to decreased appetite leading to weight loss. In fact, the “certified” acupuncturists go one step further and use a pseudoscientific rationale as to why stapling can’t work, even though they believe that these alleged pressure points on the ears exist:

Moreover, stapling the ear can negatively affect the pressure point, she said. “Once a point is stimulated consistently, if anything, you shut it down.”

Of course. How obvious. I should have thought of that before!

So how does the Florida State Board of Acupuncture distinguish acupuncture practices that might actually work from sheer quackery? What criteria does it use to differentiate real uses of acupuncture from quackery? I really want to know!

The irony (one set of woo-meisters telling another set of woo-meisters that their particular woo is bogus) is so delicious–which is why this was the appropriate topic for a little bonus holiday dose of woo.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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